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Top Things to Do on Oahu

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The island is a mere 597 sq. miles in area -- 44 miles long and 30 miles across -- but families will find plenty of fun things to do on Oahu. Most of the action is in the south, around Waikiki; the north is very different, less developed, and well worth visiting.

See also Oahu Resorts, including Aulani, Disney's Hawaii Resort.

1. Walk Waikiki

Things to do on Oahu - Walk Waikiki - Photo ©  Teresa Plowright

It's free, and one of the best things to do on Oahu. The legendary Waikiki Beach has been beautified: not only can visitors enjoy its lovely sand and surf, they can also stroll along its wide flagstone sidewalk, past fountains, rock pools, statues, and surfboard-signs that offer bits of history. Perhaps you'll visit when free movies are shown on the beach. (Take a photo tour of Waikiki Beach.)

2. Boat Trips

photo ©  Teresa Plowright
Naturally, one of the best things to do on an island is to get out on the water. Your choices are many on Oahu. For starters, the Outrigger Reef Hotel offers catamaran rides, and kids love lounging on the mesh and peering down to the sea below. Also, a number of companies offer outings such as lunchtime cruises, sunset cruises, etc. A boat outing might have some extra fun, such as a water trampoline or a chance to go wind-surfing.

Another way to get out on the water-- and also under it-- is via an Atlantis Adventures submarine experience (see below).

3. Atlantis Adventures: Submarine Outing

things to do on Oahu - Atlantis submarine - Photo ©  Teresa Plowright
Atlantis Adventures -- offered in many tropical spots-- offers are a novel way to explore the underseas, and a great way for kids too young for scuba or snorkeling to see underwater life. Read more about the Atlantis submarine experiences.

At Waikiki beach, guests start their Atlantis voyage at the Hilton Hawaiian Village resort. A short boat ride -- with nice views of Waikiki and Diamond Head -- ferries passengers to the submarine. Guests board, take a seat (everyone gets his or her own port-hole), and the captain begins the descent, typically with humorous commentary. On our trip, we were amused to see sea-turtles being "cleaned" by fish!

4. Nature Tour: Dolphins, Whales, Turtles...

Photo ©  Teresa Plowright

Wild Side Specialty Tours are the best kind of nature-tour operators, with an ethical respect for marine animals in their natural habitat. No wildlife outing can guarantee sightings, but on a trip in December we were lucky enough to see gray whales, and to swim with spinner dolphins and sea turtles. Other types of outings are available too.

Visitors to Hawaii should know that there are many issues around swimming with dolphins. Swimming with wild dolphins could be a peak experience of a Hawaii trip, but be SURE to choose a dolphin outing responsibly.

5. Everybody's Gone Surfing...

Photo courtesy of Lisa Sonne

Surfing originated as the sport of ancient Hawaiian royalty. Kids as young as eight can try: you can find lessons right on Waikiki Beach, where the surf is good for beginners-- surely one of the world's most convenient places to try this sport. Or call the Hans Hedemann Surf School for other locations. In winter: watch pros compete on giant surf on Oahu's north shore.

6. Pearl Harbor

photo ©  Teresa Plowright
Oahu offers an amazing opportunity to bring history alive for your kids. The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor is part of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument managed by the National Park Service, and offers an NPS Junior Ranger Program: kids complete a booklet with fun activities and earn a Junior Ranger badge. Allow enough time to tour the USS Arizona. Nearby, you can also tour the USS Bowfin submarine.

7. Polynesian Cultural Center

Photo ©  Teresa Plowright

Visit seven Polynesian Islands in one afternoon. The Polynesian Cultural Center -- on the north side of Oahu-- is a beautiful place to spend a day, and each island-zone has activities that kids will enjoy. At Tonga, a hilarious stand-up comic routine included real-life making fire and coconut milk. Other "islands" featured drumming, Tahitian dances, tattoos, games, poi balls.

Evening brings a lavish luau buffet, and later on a Night Show with plenty of pizazz.

8. Do a Luau

top things to do on Oahu - Luau - Photo ©  Teresa Plowright

Based on a tradition of Hawaiian feasts, the Luau has evolved into a rite of passage for tourists. Expect a splashy show, and a huge buffet (quality various.) The Polynesian Cultural Center, (below), does an excellent Luau that's under a high roof-- no rain worries. No liquor is served at the PCC; whereas at the other Luau we sampled --the Paradise Cove Luau-- drinking jokes started on the bus-ride. Kids enjoyed fun activities at this luau (stick-throwing games, tattoos, crafts, canoe ride). Visitors have several choices for luaus, so shop around and choose what's best for you. The Hilton Hawaiian Village (on Waikiki Beach) has a luau on-property.

9. "Soaring" - Glider Rides

Top things to do on Oahu - glider rides
Many people like to explore Hawaii from above, taking plane or helicopter tours. Glider rides offer not only beautiful views of hills and coast below, but the unique experience of "soaring".

Two passengers at a time squeeze into a sporty little glider, which is then roped to a plane and towed into the air, until the point when the rope gets dropped and-- you're soaring, no engine noise, just a beautiful ride. A 20-minute flight reaches altitudes of 3000 feet. Check out Honolulu Soaring, at the link above, on Oahu's North Shore, with beautiful vistas below your glider ride.

10. Snorkeling at Hanauma Bay

The Hanauma Bay Nature Park is actually a State Underwater Park, and is known as a popular snorkeling spot.

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